SPORT

Chancy half-century by Jayawardene

S. Ram Mahesh

Port of Spain: Mahela Jayawardene, self-promoted to one-drop, reacquainted himself with form, that fickle and elusive governess of batting, on Thursday.

At the Queen's Park Oval, Jayawardene made a chancy 85 (90 balls, six fours, two sixes) that had its moments of great beauty. He added 150 for the third wicket with Kumar Sangakkara the partnership laid the ballast for Sri Lanka to score 321 for six in 50 overs against Bermuda.

The first Group B match of the World Cup began in perfect cricket conditions. The field was the shade of green that delights the eye, the sky the subtle azure travel writers make frequent reference to. Jayawardene won a useful toss he would have liked his batsmen to clock in batting time.

But, a nasty surprise awaited him.

Kevin Hurdle, who looks a fast bowler, conveyed the ball through at an innocuous 80 mph; but he generated disconcerting bounce on a true track.

Twelve springy steps take Hurdle to the crease and sometimes beyond, for he overstepped eight times in his first two overs. Once there he makes excellent use of his six-foot-five-inch frame. His delivery stride is short for a man his height. He snaps his front leg straight, and sweeps his arm over this considerable base. This strength of action helped Hurdle slice open Sanath Jayasuriya's left index finger with a rip-snorter, drawing blood. An alarmed physio ran on.

Inconsistent

Unfortunately the 30-year-old Hurdle doesn't get it right every single time. A 14-ball second over that conceded 24 runs prompted Bermuda captain Irving Romaine to remove him from the attack. His spell might have read 2-0-29-0, but for a few glorious moments at least in his own head Hurdle channelled the spirit of his hero Curtly Ambrose.

Romaine fell back on the mild medium pace of Saleem Mukuddem and Janeiro Tucker. Mukuddem, 35 and balding, is a chartered accountant. One suspects it has seeped into his bowling: pedantically precise with a facility for repetition.

Jayasuriya had taken to an errant Hurdle after the finger injury. But, the great left-hander found Mukuddem's bowling less willing to lend itself to slaughter. He cut straight to point. Oliver Pitcher clutched it and crumpled over. The Bermuda players gathered around, wide-eyed and delirious.

Mukuddem almost had Jayawardene next ball. A gentle outswinger that wobbled like jelly pudding as it made its way down the track found the edge. But, Dwayne Leverock, the now familiar 270-pounder, dropped it at slip.

For Jayawardene, who averages just 14.5 in his last ten ODIs, it was a spot of much-needed luck. He cover-drove on bent knee; he also managed to bring an adroit bat across to glance fine. A straight drive elicited appreciative clicking of tongues.

Hurdle, brought back, conned Upul Tharanga into nibbling at one down the leg-side; Dean Minors, the wicket-keeper, got there looking ungainly, but held on well.

Carnival atmosphere

The crowd was sparse, belying the frenzied atmosphere outside the stadium, where steel-pan drummers and stilt-walkers replicated, on a smaller scale, Carnival, Trinidad and Tobago's musical festival of street theatre and elaborate costumes. But, the few fans that did come cheered wildly when Leverock was brought on in the 22nd over.

Leverock eased in, and flighted his left-arm orthodox. One immediately saw why the English team who, it must be said, tend to over-estimate spin had spoken so highly. Sangakkara, a fine player of slow bowling, was beaten in flight once. He countered by stepping down, as an intriguing battle developed.

Sangakkara stroked six fours in his 76 before Leverock had him superbly caught at the boundary. The whirly-twirly celebration was appropriate. Jayawardene exited in the 43rd over, but Chamara Silva wielded a capable bat.

Bermuda did commendably in the field. The fielders dropped regulation catches, but made up by snaffling some remarkable ones.

Chasing 322 for victory, Bermuda was struggling on 29 for six in 12 overs. Janeiro Tucker (0) and Lionel Cann (0) were at the crease. Clay Smith (0), Saleem Mukuddem (0), David Hemp (14), Irving Romaine (0), Oliver Pitcher (6), and Dean Minors (4) were the batsmen dismissed. Lasith Malinga claimed three wickets.